An amazing thing about being on a vacation is that you don’t really have to be worry about the clock (or so I have always thought – but this was to change soon, and I of course, though I think I know everything, didn’t know it ;P ). After our troubled, stretched, expensive and tiring journeys, Bénédicte and I had a really good night’s sleep, waking up at 8.30, all set to see the splendours of the Roman Empire. (Folks! I want to tell historical facts about everything I saw, but rest assured, I won’t do it, I am simply linking each place of interest with information on it and you guys can get educated yourselves 😉 )
After a hearty breakfast, the hotel supplied us with lovely maps of the city – ones that marked important places with a small picture and gave us an idea about how to plan our day and we realised that we were, like Stefania (for all ignorant friends – Gaurav’s Italian Friend) had suggested, almost within walking distance from most places. We were 15 minutes from the Trevi Fountains, 25 from the Pantheon and 45 from the Colisseum and Forum! Convinced that walking wasn’t going to be a big deal if the weather remained as pleasant as it seemed to be, we set off on foot towards the Trevi fountain, armed with cameras and bottles of water. The beautiful cobbled, almost empty streets were a source of surprise – with every single commercial establishment closed! And then we realised it was a Sunday, so we were going to see few people, and definitely no shops :).
The intricate streets, cobbled pavements and the bazaar (oh they don’t keep an off on Sunday, only the fancy, stylish stores do) was almost reminiscent of our old city (minus the cobbled streets of course). As we started moving towards the fountain, we realised that we were actually going towards one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world. The fountain was swarming with tourists, with vendors doing brisk business selling trinkets and souvenirs, and even Umbrellas! On the way we saw artists with their own works, vendors selling prints of art works, and several small establishments selling – guess what –Pinocchio figures in every conceivable size! Pinocchio is almost an emblem for the Italians it seems! There were these 2 inch wooden figures to life -size ones, as wall hangings, display pieces, dolls, and even on pencil caps and on sharpeners!!! I was sold on the idea and managed to pick up a few for all the kids whom I was going to see once I reached home!
As we turned a corner, the magnificent sight of the Trevi Fountain in full splendour in the mild morning sun awaited us. The huge figures of the Gods and the angels, the magnificent horses of Oceanus who have a life-like charm. (I must say I find these ancient animal figures very interesting. While we think of animals as reasonless beings, these ancient art works depict them as having a character, a pride, a strength, a vivacity that needs to be seen to be believed! The entire scene oozes a kind of power that attracts the beholder! And of course the tradition of dropping a coin in the fountain – something that neither Bénédicte nor I wanted to miss! Who, after all, would want to miss a chance to return to this charming city? And that too when we were going to have only 2 and a half days in the city!
The next place that we went to was Italy’s monument to the nation. It is a huge monstrous building which looks like a palace, but has a lot of intricate decoration, a little too much of it, actually. While the building failed to attract us, we were mesmerized by the view that we could get from the steps of the building! And guess what, there was even a young bride waiting on the steps (either extremely patriotic or too dramatic – didn’t find out which one).
As we turned and walked further we realised that Rome offers an open bus, which you can board on and get off at any point of interest during the day. Along the pavements were a lot of people selling souvernirs, gelato (ice cream for the uninitiated – the best one comes from Italy folks, take my word for it, I tell you), and even fruit! And we ended up paying a hefty 1 Euro (and mind you, I am not the only one calling it hefty) for a small piece of coconut. There were live music concerts (there was group of singers right there on the pavement, with an audience already gathered around them, and they were even selling CDs of their own music!!!
We had decided to walk up to the river and then get ourselves lunch at some cafe on the banks, but as we were walking towards the river, we realised that we were right next to the Colosseum and naturally, decided to make the most of it. Having already learnt aboutthe Roma Pass, the first thing that we did was to walk into the nearest metro station to buy one. That assuredly was a very smart thing to do, for with Roma Pass, we were entitled to free entry to two archeological sites / museums (and more importantly it meant we didn’t have to queue up for the ticket! – Take my word for it, queues in Rome are at least 30-45 minutes long for every single site (and there are some where they can be 1 hour / 2hours too!)
The Colosseum is definitely as impressive from within as from without! One has to just step out on one of the spectator areas and look around to realise what a Herculean effort it must have been for the architects who conceived and built it, what a feeling of splendour and pride for the people who participated in events and came to view. Even today, one has to just look at the site to imagine the broken walls repaired and the empty rows full of spectators who were as full of life as were the athletes, the Gladiators and the brave hearts who came to demonstrate their strength and ability. The entire building contains information about old customs, traditions, dressing, weapons, games and events and of course the architectural and historical facts about the magnificent building. It is a sight which leaves you wondering at the capabilities of the people of the old times. As we walked out of the Colosseum and moved on to the Roman Forum.
As we were walking down the magnificent ruins we came across a young American (may be not so young- but certainly doing a fantastic job) guide who was taking some young women around. He knew what he was talking about (there was lot of history and architectural talk) and did it with complete confidence and a lot of humour. It was fun to listen to him, for whatever time we managed to listen to him. The funny thing was, after walking for so many hours at a stretch, we were hardly tired of walking (Bene, you may want to contradict this, but I tell you again, I am slow in walking just because I don’t walk usually 🙂
Walking to the river was another experience in itself. Every place in Rome is a small or big monument, so you see ancient architecture lurking from behind modernistic buildings everywhere, all the time. And we continued walking right upto the river, just to find that the establishments on the river banks opened only in the evenings! And what attractive places they were – there were small benches, and tables set and even a divan set up on the paved bank – complete with cushions for the clients to come and stretch in luxury and enjoy their meals! But they were all still in the ‘set up’ mode – not one ready to serve us.
Walking over the other side of the bridge we walked into what looked like a residential colony to see a cafe which said “Tutti Giorno” (Open all day) and pulled a quaint chair in a small lawn with lovely looking flowers (at 4 in the afternoon if you please) only to be told by the owner (it was a family cafe) that they were closed. And when we showed him the board, he simply said it was a mistake! Wow! So much for our hunger after (what I learnt later was) a 10 Km walk! Thankfully, right next door was another cafe with a very friendly server which took us in and began my love story with Panini Verde (What??? – Vegetable Sandwich folks, only with bread that looks more like the subway bread). I was to live on Panini for almost the entire week for lunch and didn’t mind it at all!
Finally, after the lovely lunch (if it can be called that at 4) we walked down to a bus station (folks, if you’ve been reading the links I’ve posted correctly, you would know by now, that with Roma Pass we were entitled to free public transport) and caught a bus back into our area. This was the evening when Shivang was to come into Rome, on his way back to Genova from Naples, we were to activate my Eurail pass and book our tickets to Paris. It was also the evening when we were meeting a friend of Benedicte’s for drinks. Shivang was reaching in Rome at 8, we had a drinks date at 7.30 and so, Benedicte went to keep her date, and I went to keep mine on platform 13 at Roma Termini. If I didn’t tell you before, Italy has a penchant for discovering new archeological sites – every time that they begin digging for a new Metro line, they discover a new site and so, they have to cordon off the place and hand it over to the archeological department and look for another site to improve their metro service. It must be amazing to live above so much history!!!
Well, the bottom line of it all is, that if you are on the Termini Metro Station, and you want to get to the intercity train station, you have to walk almost 1 km within the underground (to climb 2 floors up, thanks to all the diversions and the restoration work). Finally I found Shivang on platform 13 and we went to activate my Eurail pass, to find that there was a 1hour + queue waiting at the windows (19 of them, of which 3 were functional) to be attended to. Finally, we managed to get us a ticket and went to lovely Pizza place and had one of the most fantastic pizzas I have ever had. (I am, at least for now, completely off the soft base pizza back home – those guys make fantastic crust and lovely sauce – it tastes like heaven)!
And finally Bénédicte and I found ourselves a train back to the hotel – to end our first day with a hot water wash and looooooooooooooong deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep snooooooooooooring sleep 🙂
Watch out for day 2 folks 🙂